In February 1924, local citizens were abuzz with the arrival of a sparkling new community hub that provided a connection to the world beyond our region, a hub that also connected residents with each other and with visitors who arrived to explore the unique promise of Southwest Florida. That hub was the Atlantic Coast Line Railway depot.
The depot delivered a new era of progress to the region and saw the area through roughly 50 years of growth. But it closed and became vacant in 1971, the victim of dwindling ridership after the growth of automobile and air travel in the decades following World War II.
Determined to preserve the historic station, a group of citizens teamed with the city to spearhead its reawakening, and the Southwest Florida Museum of History opened in the former depot in 1982. The museum remained there until 2015, when it merged with the Imaginarium Science Center and relocated to the Imaginarium’s site to form the IMAG History & Science Center. The venerable depot seemed fated to fade into history.
Until a visionary public-private partnership between the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, the City of Fort Myers and the Community Redevelopment Agency reimagined its connectivity in a new way, reinventing the depot and adding a nearly 14,000-square-foot addition to transform the site into Collaboratory, which the Community Foundation gifted to the region at a public celebration in October 2018.
Just as the depot’s iron rails once powered a vital community hub, the landmark’s renaissance inspires an exciting new community connection: the converging rails of innovative thinking powered by cutting-edge technology, dedicated community stakeholders and impactful philanthropy. The result is a unifying regional effort to advance sustainable social, economic and environmental vitality for generations to come.